Love that leathery, plasticky smell nostalgically associated with a new car? It's actually outgasing noxious chemicals, which drivers and passengers inhale.
Vehicle violation: The average American spends 1.5 hours a day in the car. In a new vehicle, drivers and passengers breathe concentrated doses of noxious chemicals from the materials used to make steering wheels, dashboards, carpet, armrests, seat cushions, sealants and trim.
Chemical rap sheet: Exposure to automotive chemicals—such as bromine (from fire retardants in cushion foam), chlorine (from plasticizers and polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) and heavy metals—could cause allergic reactions or even long-term health impacts such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer.
Safe for kids: Children’s car seats contain many of the same toxic chemicals. Parents can investigate more than 60 tested child seats at
to find which model is safest. (Note: Always use a child car seat, no matter what chemical rating it received.)
Odor eliminator: Healthy Car provides vehicle analysis of more than 200 popular new vehicles so buyers know which have the lowest and highest chemical ratings.
A safer ride: Other ways to limit your toxic chemical exposure:
• Park in the shade and crack the windows. Heat exposure releases chemicals; the more air flow through the vehicle, the better.
• Install a carbon air filter in your car.
• Buy a slightly older car. The concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) generally declines over time—tenfold within a few months after manufacture. However, flame-retardant chemicals in foam cushions release more bromine with age.
• Choose cloth-covered seats. Healthy Car tests reveal that most leather seats actually have vinyl on the sides and back. Vinyl contains outgasing chemicals called phthalates.